Canada’s bishops are expressing their “deepest sorrow” and pledge to “continue walking side by side” with Indigenous people in the wake of the discovery of the bodies of 215 children buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the “unthinkable loss” on May 27 that was “never documented” at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The school, funded by the federal government, was run by the Catholic Church from 1890 until 1969 before being shut down in 1978.
“The news of the recent discovery is shocking,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement signed by it president, Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg. “It rekindles trauma in numerous communities across this land. Honouring the dignity of the lost little ones remains that the truth be brought to light.”
News of the discovery prompted an outpouring of grief and shock across the country. Flags on all federal buildings, as well many municipal buildings, were lowered to half-mast in honour of the victims and vigils were held in several cities. In Vancouver,
215 pairs of children’s shoes were placed on the stops in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery as a memorial.
“As we see ever more clearly the pain and suffering of the past, the Bishops of Canada pledge to continue walking side by side with Indigenous peoples in the present, seeking greater healing and reconciliation for the future,” said Gagnon.
“We had a knowing in our community,” Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation chief Rosanne Casimir said of the discovery, which was verified with ground-penetrating radar. In a statement, Casimir said some of the children were as young as three years old.
“I am filled with deep sadness at the troubling news about the 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said in the hours following news of the discovery.
“The pain that such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring light to every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church. The passage of time does not erase the suffering that touches the Indigenous communities affected, and we pledge to do whatever we can to heal that suffering.”
Kamloops Bishop Joseph Nguyen also expressed his sadness, saying “I humbly join so many who are heartbroken and horrified” by the news.
“On behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops, I express my deepest sympathy to Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation and to all who are mourning this tragedy and an unspeakable loss. No words of sorrow could adequately describe this horrific discovery,” he said.
Deacon Rennie Nahanee, former co-ordinator of the archdiocese’s First Nations Ministry Office and a member of the Squamish First Nation, took part in national Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Vancouver in 2011 and heard “sad stories” of how the remains of children were sent home from residential schools.
“I presumed then that the remains were returned home,” he said.
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